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In-The-Know Secrets for Your First Disney Family Vacation

Updated on January 7, 2016

So, you are about to go on your first vacation as a family to Disney World. Excitement abounds, children are giggling every few minutes without any apparent reason, and all the adults have silly grins. Life is good. In order to ensure that happiness keeps going, Disney veterans want to pass on some important secrets they have learned over the years and keep you from making the little mistakes that quickly turn Disney magic to Disney misery.

Sunscreen is a must, no matter the time of year.

It's called The Sunshine State for a very good reason. Other parts of the country can go without or with very little sunscreen from October to March, but in Florida there is no escaping the need for sunscreen at any time of year, and the fairer you are, the more SPFs you need! Sunburn, heat exhaustion, and sun stroke are not the best souvenirs to pick up during your Disney trip, so play it safe.

It is extra important to get special protection for babies and toddlers. Their tender skin burns and they succumb to heat and illness five to ten times faster than you do. Powerful baby sunblock, hats, umbrellas, and shade are your best friends when it comes to the young ones. If swimming is a big to do on your family list, remember that the water amplifies the sun, so try to keep the little ones in the shady sections whenever possible.

Browse from the start, buy at the end

As tempting as it is to load up on the fabulousness of Disney from the moment you step foot on the grounds - Don't. Impulse shopping is an absolute budget buster anywhere, at Disney, it has the real ability to cause bankruptcy if left unchecked. Making sure that you really want or need that item, and are not just caught up in the excitement, will keep you on budget.

Consider a rule that if you don't remember it by shopping time, it wasn't THAT important. Then add the rule that shopping time is on the way out. Either on the way out of the park if you know you won't come back, or on the last day or two of your vacation if you accounted for days specifically to shop. If you are taking small children, these rules help out a lot, as they tend to want everything, but only remember one or two things. Also, you won't be loaded down at the park or crowded in the room by all the extra stuff you bought.

Don't bring anything you don't absolutely need - Packing

When you are making your packing list, try not to go overboard. In general, you know how many days you are staying, bring that many outfits plus one, that many sets of underwear and socks plus two, one swimsuit with beach towel and cover up, and two or three pairs of appropriate shoes, such as walking shoes, sandals for the pool, and dressier shoes for dinner reservations.

If you are only staying a few days use the Disney supplied soaps and lotions or consider buying either travel versions of things you need or smaller bottles to take stuff from home. It may seem like your shampoo doesn't take up much room, but it starts to add up very quickly when it becomes your shampoo, your spouses shampoo, the kids shampoo, then conditioner for each of you, soap for each of you, and the list goes on and on. On the other hand, you can usually fit all your travel sizes for one person in roughly the same space as an average shampoo bottle.

Don't bring anything you don't absolutely need - Park going

When you arrive at the park, you will go find the first set of lines you will be standing in for the day. These lines lead you through the baggage check, where any purse, fanny pack, or another container you are carrying will be carefully checked for contraband. And yes, they are going to look at every single thing. They will be as fast as possible, but they will look. They will open your wallet if it's in a purse, every zipper compartment is opened, and every item is lifted to check it and underneath it.

However, you may not need to go through this line, and instead, might be allowed to walk freely into the park. In order to do that, you can not be carrying a bag of any kind, pushing a stroller, or riding a scooter. If you are the type of person who can put your phone in one pocket and your wallet in the other, or if the family is old enough not to need backpacks or baby bags to spend the day, you can entirely skip the lines and walk straight into the park without delay.

Room Friendly Food

Half Gallon of Milk
Sandwich Items
Snacks in Individual Servings
Canned or Boxed Drinks
All rooms have a mini fridge at least, but not all have a microwave and coffee pot, so be prepared.

You don't actually have to buy Disney food, at all

Disney is truly a one of a kind place. They allow each person to bring their own food into their hotels and into the parks. You can't food into the restaurants or use the restaurant's seating areas, but Disney will not stop you from bringing a cooler full of food into their parks, shopping venues, or hotels.

There are some limits, though. Alcoholic beverages are a serious no-no, and food items that require heating will be removed. Coolers entering the parks can not be any larger than 24" by 15" by 18", and personal coolers are not allowed any golf course. There is not currently a limit on the number of coolers a family can take in, but remember that what you bring, you have to carry and protect the entire time you are in the park.

Walt Disney World Resort is actually a city in its own right

Don't make the mistake of thinking that Disney security are not real policemen with all the rights and abilities of any cop in the U.S. Disney is a real life city, with its own government, laws, regulations, and emergency services.

The "Disney Cops" are real cops, the firemen are real firemen, and when you call 911 on Disney property, you are in fact calling the dispatch on Disney property. It's generally not a good idea to banter about the term "rent-a-cop" as if you were in a shopping mall, because while some security staff are just that, some of them are real life police officers that can and will arrest you if you give them a legal reason to do so.

Don't forget the line distractions!

No matter how awesome or magical a place is, lines are boring. If you are traveling with smaller children, lines are also places that truly test your patience and ability to get past frustrations. While newer rides and attractions have interactive lines, fun little things that help keep the boredom away, the original lines that have not yet been updated are still just lines with a little interesting scenery along the way.

Line distractions are an absolute must. Games on a phone, riddles, or word games are a good start. Whatever kinds of things distract your family while they are in the car for a long drive, bring those. Consider also that Disney has more lore and trivia than just about anywhere on earth of the same age, and making games out of the movies the ride is based on, or the rides themselves, for the lines is a sure way to distract the young ones as much as possible!

Don't over schedule

This is the granddaddy of all mistakes on all Disney vacations. Unfortunately, it's one that first timers make every time. You simply can not do it all in one trip, not even a week long trip, much less one day. Accept that up front, and instead of trying to jam in as much as possible, plan just a few things that are scheduled such as meals and a few rides per person that are "must do", and let Disney just wash over you and lead you through the rest of your vacation.

Disney burnout is a real thing. It usually happens day one for the unprepared vacationer or day two for the prepared first timer. Even the veterans still get burnout after dozens of visits. The less you plan, the more you will enjoy. That is just a fact of Disney magic.

Now go forth and Disney like a pro!

© 2016 Char


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